What IS gaslighting?

One of the most devastating tactics used by narcissists is gaslighting and it is something that, unless one has actually experienced it, is difficult to comprehend.This is my fourth blog about relationships with people with narcissistic personalities. My previous blogs have looked at some of the characteristics of a narcissist and some suggestions about how to handle someone in your life who has these traits.

Gaslighting is used to get control and power and can make the victim question their reality. We are ALL susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators and cult leaders. It is done over a long period of time, so the victim doesn’t realise how much they’ve been brainwashed. Even the brightest, most self-aware people can be sucked into gaslighting—it is that effective. It’s the “frog in the frying pan” analogy: The heat is turned up slowly, so the frog never realises what’s happening to it.

Where does the name come from?

The name comes from the film Gaslight (1944), in which a man manipulates his wife to the point where she thinks she is losing her mind. One of the ways he does this is by slowly dimming and brightening the gaslights.

What are the key behaviours involved in gaslighting?
  1. Telling blatant lies

Narcissists are well able to lie with a straight face – even to tell a huge lie. This enables them to set up a precedent. Subsequently you’re not sure if anything they say is true. Keeping you unsteady and off-kilter is the goal. When dealing with a person who gaslights, look at what they are doing rather than what they are saying. What they are saying means nothing; it is just talk.

  1. Denying they ever said something

Similarly, they make a promise to do something and then later totally deny it. Again this can make a you start questioning your reality.  The more they do this, the more you question your reality and start accepting theirs.

  1. Knowing what buttons to press

A narcissist knows your weak points and knows what things and which people are most important to you. They will use this information to attack the foundation of your being. This may mean criticising your friends, your children, your parents, your appearance, your way of speaking – anything that will get a reaction from you.

  1. Wearing you down over time

This is one of the insidious things about gaslighting—it is done gradually, over time. A lie here, a lie there, a snide comment every so often…and then it starts ramping up.

  1. Turning back into a nice person in order to confuse you

Having criticised you endlessly, the narcissist then switches tactics and becomes the kind loving person you fell for at the start of the relationship. This adds an additional sense of uneasiness. You think, “Well maybe they aren’t so bad.” Again this is a calculated attempt to keep you off-kilter and to question your reality.

Gaslighters know that people like having a sense of stability. Their goal is to uproot this and make you constantly question everything.

  1. Projecting

The narcissist may be the one who cheats or behaves badly in other ways, yet they can turn this around and accuse you of exactly the same behaviour. This is done so often that you start trying to defend yourself, and are distracted from the gaslighter’s own behaviour.

  1. Turning your friends and family against you.

Gaslighters are masters at manipulating and will make comments such as, “This person agrees that there’s something wrong with you. ” It does not mean that this person actually said this –  remember the gaslighter is a constant liar.  The gaslighter uses this tactic in order to make you feel like you don’t know who to trust or turn to. This enforced isolation gives them more control.  The gaslighter may question your sanity to people in your circle of friends and family so that when you look to them for support, they won’t believe you when you tell them the gaslighter is abusive.

Need some advice and support?

If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541


Book a counselling session today!


See also: What is a Narcissist? Dealing with a Narcissist, Healthy and Unhealthy Relationships